By boycotting the official Martyrs Day function, the ruling BJP created a historic precedence that shocked everybody. But Bilal Handoo says the rightwing party was never expected to fall in line, as its ally once claimed, and do the honours given the evolution of the communal integrationist thought process that played key role in disturbing post-partition Kashmir further
Before he could relive his memory of 1950s, a senile Srinagar man in his late eighties took a breather. The moment his memory pave way to history, he talked about his time in Jammu as a trader during those tumultuous years when fringe party like Jana Sangh would bat for complete merger of Jammu and Kashmir with India, besides observe July 13 as ‘black day’. For this man, it wasn’t too hard to realise that Sangh, which later became Bhartiya Janta Party, glorifies killers (Dogras) by snubbing July 13 martyrs.
Almost sixty years later, Ghulam Ali Mir said that nothing much has changed. “Hari Singh was always hero for them (BJP),” said Mir, who ran a Kashmiri Arts shop in Jammu during ‘50s. “And when somebody like Hari Singh whose hands are soaked red with innocent blood is your hero, then naturally leader like Sheikh Abdullah, a new hero born in Kashmir out of July 1931 events, will always be your villain.”
It was perhaps the same love-hate relationship paving way for the much-touted Praja Parishad agitation in JK during Abdullah’s days of state’s premier. The movement was brainchild of former professor of history at Delhi University, Balraj Madhok. “I knew the man,” continued Mir. “He was the one who had established RSS’s state wing in Jammu during forties and would deliver extensive talks on RSS ideology, even in Srinagar, to woo young minds.” Once the ‘agitation’ party was floated in 1949, it demanded complete unification of J&K with India. The idea was tempting for many; one being the former cabinet member of Jawahar Lal Nehru who speedily drove to Jammu. He was the Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder, Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
On Soura’s 90 feet road, one house belongs to somebody who was in Jammu when Praja Parishad was ‘stirring up a storm in teacup’ in state by opposing ‘authoritative’ Abdullah. The man saw number of rallies of Jana Sangh where slogans of ‘Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan’ (One Law, One Flag, One Head) would be raised. “It was desperate attempt by Jana Sangh to gain footing in Jammu by appeasing the fallen monarch,” said Inayatullah Sofi, 82, a retired government teacher. “Ek bada tamasha horaha tha Jammu mei tabh (A big drama was going on in Jammu then).”
The ‘tamasha’ with a specific colour was indeed getting very complex, unnerving twin power-centres of Delhi and Srinagar. The ensued clashes between Praja and Police (against the separate constitution, separate flag, separate ‘Sadar-e-Riyasat’ and the permit system) saw six men falling to state bullets in Jammu’s Akhnoor. And since then, the day is being celebrated every year by BJP and its allies as ‘Martyrs Day’ in Jammu. “They needed something, for instance a day for observance, in parallel to July 13. And they had it in the same year (1953) when Abdullah was put behind bars in Kashmir conspiracy case,” Sofi said. Abdullah, it is believed, was made to taste his own medicine by his friend-turned-foe, Nehru, about whom he once said, “I see no difference between Shayama Prasad Mookerjee and Nehru.”
However before that could have happened, Jammu had become a literal political akhadha. Praja Parishad that merged with Bharatiya Jan Sangh (in 1970) and later became BJP (in 1980) was raking up issues seriously opposing JK’s ‘conditional accession’ with India. “Mostly Jammu’s landlords, feudals and moneylenders were leading from the front,” said Sofi. “Abdullah’s popular land reforms had cost them dear. Their landholdings were devoured, which made them mad at Kashmir’s emergency ruler. They sniffed conspiracy in the move as they hadn’t faced any such thing under Dogra rule. And then those men massively participated in Praja Parishad and never allowed National Conference to take off in Jammu.”
Perhaps there was another big reason that couldn’t make NC a party of masses in Jammu, like Kashmir. And the reason was, said both Mir and Sofi, NC’s sense of pride to identify itself with July 13 Martyrs, 22 of whom fell to Dogra bullets in 1931, the date which became Kashmir’s 1857, when Gadar against Dogra rule broke out.
But, the popular perception in Jammu always viewed 1931 uprising as an attempt of Kashmiri Muslims to oust a Hindu ruler. And to plug the protest, it is said, the last monarch, Hari Singh had cleared decks of Hindu right-wing’s entry into Kashmir. Later monarch’s ‘Tiger’, Karan Singh demonstrated what his father had done behind the curtains.
And that happened shortly after the sundown of Dogra rule in JK.
It was the usual day of protest when the then Jammu district commissioner saw Karan Singh leading a procession of Praja Parishad, participated by RSS foot soldiers and supporters, somewhere in Jammu outskirts. To stop the procession, the DC parked his jeep in the middle of road and told people to retreat or face consequences. They dispersed without putting up any protest. Later that day, the DC met Karan Singh at his Jammu mansion and advised him to stay out of such rallies, the advice Karan Singh did heed.
Later the DC, Kashmir’s first civil servant, Agha Nasir, realised that everything was happening in Jammu at Dogra’s behest. “For Jammu Dogras, it was a bitter pill to swallow to watch power getting transferred from Dogra rulers to their Kashmiri subjects,” Aga Nasir told this correspondent in 2013, one year before passing away. “Besides Abdullah’s land reforms proved a huge setback to the feudal leadership of Jammu. They felt duped and therefore found salvation in Praja Parishad agitation, which was stanchly anti-Abdullah.” Inspite of having Congress and British government support, Agha said, Abdullah received no attention in Jammu as majority held him responsible for Hari Singh’s fall. This Dogra mindset, Agha shortly realised was fanning a “rabid mentality” in Jammu.
This mentality later bred a sense of discrimination in Jammu, as it was believed that Abdullah’s cabinet has no room for Jammu-based officials. Such thoughts were encouraged even when Abdullah chose his finance minister, Girdhari Lal Dogra, from Jammu. “Later to ascertain the facts, I began my own fact-finding exercise and realised that this mindset was the brainchild of Praja leaders, who were uncertain of their fate in event of Muslim majority Kashmir voting against India in a promised plebiscite,” Agha said. “And therefore, they were desperate to fiddle with constitution for an equitable sharing of political power by the three regions of the state.”
And the man behind this public perception was the erstwhile deputy commissioner of Muzaffarbad, Prem Nath Dogra. He was instrumental in leading Praja Parishad agitation and inspired likes of Shyama Prasad Mookherjee and his Jana Sangh to join the agitation. The veteran journalist of state, Ved Bhasin recalls Dogra as someone in whose house “rioters would come out, board jeeps and roam in the city” during 1947 Jammu Massacre. In that communal frenzy atmosphere, charged with emotive appeals of Tara Devi (Hari Singh’s wife), Rajguru Swami Sant Dev (Royal Dogra priest) and others, Prem Nath Dogra played an instrumental role in “a mad orgy of Dogra violence against five lakh unarmed Muslims”, as the former editor of Kashmir Times, GK Reddy described later.
Without letting the dust of death and destruction of Jammu Massacre to settle down, Dogra intensified the Praja Parishad agitation. He was soon face-to-face with Indian Prime Minister and Home Minister, expressing concern over state of emergency in JK. But, it is said, the man was given a cold shoulder by the duo. Once he stepped back in Jammu, he faced Abdullah’s whip, landing him in jail for rallying behind “Matribhoomi Bharatvarsha”.
After waning and waxing, when Praja Parishad finally became BJP, it started accusing Sheikh Abdullah to “Islamicise the administration”. It had became a war cry for BJP, said Khalid Bashir, to accuse Abdullah (seen as custodian of the mission of July 13 martyrs) for finishing Dogra dominance through a coup that led to unceremonious dismissal of Hari Singh. “Later when Karan Singh was made the first regent of JK,” said Bashir, a noted Kashmiri author-historian, “it was read as a sellout.” And to oppose it, he continued, Mookerjee raised a slogan: “There cannot be a republic within a republic.”
To force their will, Mookerjee’s party, BJP, harked back to the “glorious days” of the Dogra rule, Bashir said. “It mobilised the people to get rid of Kashmiri domination in the Muslim-majority state by demanding complete merger into Hindu-majority India.” Besides BJP demanded abrogation of Article 370, complete application of the Indian Constitution in JK, ending distinction between state-subjects and Indian citizens, complete jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, fresh elections to the Kashmir Constituent Assembly, removal of customs barriers between Kashmir and India, and investigation of corruption in the state administration by an impartial tribunal.
But Abdullah dismissed the agitation as a “communal” revolt by a handful of feudal landlords opposing the agrarian reforms. “In a way, Abdullah was right,” continued Bashir. “Having made it a Hindu-Muslim issue, the Parishad (now BJP) failed to woo both Jammu Muslims and sizeable Hindus, who loath both National Conference as well as Parishad.”
And once communal card apparently failed, BJP played development card alleging Jammu’s poor share in the state services and resources. They came up with numbers claiming Jammu’s least share in state services. Major state and central government offices were in Srinagar, they argued. “It was a number game where the party (BJP) was projecting Jammu a victim of ‘larger politics’,” said MLA Er Rashid, a fierce opponent of BJP. “It didn’t stop with development only. They raised issues like the recommendation of the Wazir Commission (1983) for the creation of new districts. They decried Kashmir dominance in the Legislative Assembly.” Rashid termed all these allegations meaningless. “Once failing on that front, they demanded trifurcation of JK.”
Alarmed by trifurcation, the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, termed as “Muslim Sultanate” by BJP warned on October 2, 2000, that the move might trigger worse massacre than one at Jammu. Sounding like a doomsayer, Farooq made the then home minister LK Advani to reject the move dubbing it as “anti-national”. While voicing his concern, many said Farooq sounded like Nehru who had briefed his Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel on April 17, 1949. “…a growing Hindu agitation in Jammu province called a zonal plebiscite is based on the belief that a plebiscite for the whole of Kashmir is bound to be lost and, therefore, let us save Jammu at least… Our intelligence Officer reported that this Praja Parishad is financed by the Maharaja…” Hari Singh’s ‘covert’ support to Praja Parishad became clear when he wrote a letter to HM Patel on January 31, 1948: “Sometimes I feel that I should withdraw the accession that I have made to the Indian Union. The Union only provisionally accepted the accession…”
Now enjoying power as one half of coalition partner in JK government, BJP lately demonstrated that the party supports killers than martyrs by rebuffing July 13 Martyrs’ Day ceremony. It was for the first time that a ruling party had boycotted an official event to honour 22 Kashmiris shot dead 84 years ago. The right-wing party, who Omar Abdullah believes works on the directions of Nagpur, said July 13 has a ring of “secessionism” to it.
“Besides the party doesn’t consider those killed in 1931 as martyrs,” said BJP leader Ravinder Raina. “July 13 was a black day in Kashmir’s history when some goons revolted against the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh and vandalised the property of the minorities.” Even Hari Singh’s grandson and PDP man Vikramadatiya Singh didn’t show up at Martyrs graveyard in old city, making Jammu’s stand on Kashmiri Martyrs quite clear.
Behind this stand, there is a feeling in state BJP camp that Dogra monarch’s rule was golden period in state, as Ramesh Arora, BJP’s state vice president believes. “Those killed in the 1931 firing had risen against a genuine ruler.” This view is still dominant even if the day ignited the “powder keg” of Kashmir history. BJP, however, competes with Kashmiri Pandits by calling July 13 a “black day”.
What has further fuelled this sense is the campaign spearheaded by Roots in Kashmir, a radical KP organization with Hindu-supremacist links, said Er Rashid. “This body claims to represent Pandits in exile,” he said. “Most of them are BJP, treating Hari Singh a ‘patriot’, Abdul Qadir an ‘accomplice’ in a British conspiracy to dislodge the Dogra ruler.” These KPs argue that on July 13, 1931, Muslims attacked shops, looted large quantities of goods and ‘committed indiscriminate assaults’ in parts of old city, the claims termed “bogus” by the lawmaker of Langate.
Over the years, Jammu, a bastion of BJP put up a stiff resistance to prevent Kashmirisation of Jammu by snubbing Kashmiri leadership and names. “The communal mindset became clear during Amarnath land transfer row as well,” said Er Rashid, “when BJP raked up the issue to smoke up hundreds of Muslim homes and shops in Jammu, forcing Muslim families to migrate to safe places.” Amid pestering, many say, Jammu Muslims are still awaiting leader like Chaudhary Mohammad Abbas, who could have end their identity crisis and looming ‘threat perception’.
At his Srinagar residence, Mir, the eye-witness of the rise of BJP in guise of Praja Parishad in Jammu, said July 13 was Kashmir’s Jallianwallah Bagh. “Kashmir bled that day to resist tyranny,” he said. But given the traditional posturing of BJP, there are no prizes for guessing as how the day will turn out next year when floral tribute would be given to martyrs in curfewed old city.